Communication: it’s key for an effective professional or personal life. Unfortunately, many people don’t know how to communicate effectively and both their personal and professional lives and up suffering as a result. No matter which industry you work in or which relationships you maintain, paying attention to the art of communication is smart, and essential for success. What’s more, actively building your communication skills is one of the easiest ways to improve your life. Here are ways on how to improve your communication skills in order to become a more effective leader.
How to Improve Your Communications Skills in No Time
1 Learn the basics of nonverbal communication
One study found that nonverbal communication accounted for 55 percent of how an audience perceived a presenter. That means that the majority of what you say is communicated not through words, but through physical cues. To communicate clearly and confidently, adopt proper posture. Avoid slouching, folding your arms or making yourself appear smaller than you are. Instead, fill up the space you are given, maintain eye contact and if appropriate move around the space.
2 You have to over-communicate just to communicate
In 1990, a graduate student at Stanford University was able to prove that presenters overestimate how much listeners understand. In a study that becomes known as “the tappers and the listeners,” one set of participants was asked to tap the melody of 120 famous songs. The other participants were asked to guess what song was being tapped. Tappers estimated that 50 percent of the songs tapped would be correctly identified. In reality, only 2.5 percent of songs were correctly identified. This study shows that it is important to communicate clearly, and to over-communicate when sharing new ideas. As this study indicates, it is likely that the audience will fail to absorb as much as you expect.
3 Avoid relying on visual aids
Steve Jobs instituted a rule at Apple that banned all PowerPoint presentations. Similarly, Sheryl Sandberg instituted a PowerPoint ban at Facebook. Both leaders realized that PowerPoint presentations can hinder rather than help communication. Be prepared to use words, compelling storytelling and nonverbal cues to communicate your point with the audience. Avoid using visual aids unless absolutely necessary.
4 Ask for honest feedback
As with most leadership skills, receiving honest feedback from peers, managers and members of your team is critical to becoming a better communicator. If you regularly solicit feedback, others will help you to discover areas for improvement that you might have otherwise overlooked.
5 Engage the audience in discussion
Regardless of how compelling the speaker is, all audiences have limited attention spans. To become a more effective communicator, make presentations and discussions interactive. Ask the audience a question, encourage people to call out their thoughts during a brainstorming session or at the very least ask hypothetical questions to stimulate the audience.
6 Start and end with key points
Think back to the “tappers and listeners” study mentioned earlier. Clear communication is of paramount importance. To ensure that the audience understands the key takeaways from a presentation, reiterate key points at the start and finish. This can also be accomplished by providing attendees with a one-pager that includes key points the audience should consider throughout the presentation.
7 Use the PIP approach
A common framework used by business experts on how to improve your communication skills, like those at McKinsey, is the purpose, importance, preview (PIP) approach to presentation introductions. Following this approach, the speaker first states the purpose of the presentation, and then shares why presentation is important by reviewing implications and possible outcomes. Finally, the presenter gives a preview of the topics that will be discussed. This framework is a useful way to get audiences excited about the presentation, helping them to focus on your message and on key takeaways.
8 Record important presentations for posterity
It can take a good deal of time and energy to communicate effectively. In cases where you may need to give the same presentation multiple times, consider recording it and sharing it in the future. Platforms such as Wistia and Zoom allow speakers to record themselves delivering a presentation. These video-recording platforms allow presenters to edit the video to make it more engaging and helpful. They also provide admins with metrics about viewer engagement. Recorded presentations can be especially helpful for communicators who need to regularly provide training in a company that is hiring employees quickly.
9 Master the art of timing
While some of their jokes might not be appropriate for the workplace, stand-up comedians are certainly effective communicators. Comedians including Chris Rock and Dave Chappelle are able to host compelling 90-minute comedy shows, in part because they have mastered the art of timing. Great comedians, like all great communicators, are able to feel out their audience to determine when to move on to a new topic or when to reiterate an idea.
10 Get to know your audience
To communicate effectively, it is important to get to know your audience first. Each audience is different, and will have different preferences and cultural norms that should be considered when communicating. A good way to understand expectations is to ask members of the audience for examples of good communicators within the organization.
11 Be a listener
“Listen more than you talk.” This is what Richard Branson tells business people who want to connect with others and on how to improve your communication skills. To communicate effectively, first listen to what others have to say. Then you can provide a thoughtful answer that shows you have taken those ideas into account.